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Hotel review: The Wicklow Escape offers a rural getaway made in foodie heaven

Deep in the Wicklow countryside, a world-class chef has teamed up with a former yoga retreat to create an intimate dining experience

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The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Dinner at The Great Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Dinner at The Great Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Chef Danni Barry from The Great Escape in Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Chef Danni Barry from The Great Escape in Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Fresh fish cooked al fresco at The Great Escape in County Wicklow, Photo: Liosa McNamara

Fresh fish cooked al fresco at The Great Escape in County Wicklow, Photo: Liosa McNamara

A bedroom at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

A bedroom at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

A picnic at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

A picnic at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Liosa MacNamara

Liosa MacNamara

The outdoor oven at The Wicklow Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

The outdoor oven at The Wicklow Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

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The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Despite a long, hard year, those in the hospitality industry are exploding with creativity right now. It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s an innovative team launching something imaginative and vibrant.

And the latest? The brand new foodie experience at the newly rebranded Wicklow Escape. This former yoga retreat has snagged the score of the century, with the renowned Northern Irish chef Danni Barry joining the team as head chef.

The result? An intimate dining experience in the Wicklow countryside, where meals are cooked out on an open fire, using ingredients plucked right from the garden.

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Chef Danni Barry from The Great Escape in Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Chef Danni Barry from The Great Escape in Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Chef Danni Barry from The Great Escape in Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Arrival and location

They call it a mountain lodge, but to me, The Wicklow Escape feels more like a little farmhouse in the south of France, with courtyard-style rooms spread around beautifully abundant gardens.

On a mini-break, there always comes a moment when you feel yourself properly relax. Mine came swiftly in Wicklow. Soon after my arrival, I sat in the garden, a book in my hands and the sun on my shoulders. At my feet, butterflies danced between courgette flowers and pea shoots as bees nuzzled into the foxgloves. In short? It was blissful. 8.5/10

Service & style

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Dinner at The Great Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Dinner at The Great Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Dinner at The Great Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

Fresh out of a complete restyle, there are some seriously enviable interiors at play here. In the main Lodge Hall, bunches of lavender hang from the wood beams, and the cosy fireside corner is peppered with comfy armchairs and faux furs. The place itself is fairly small, but there are plenty of places to relax in peace, from the swing tucked into the branches of an old oak tree to the plush couches that snatch all the sun. The wood-fired hot tub is a dream and set right in the forest, so your soak is accompanied by the sound of birdsong.

With only a maximum of 18 guests, the team here is small and highly attuned to everyone’s needs (on my last morning, one staff member discovered a guest was heading to Galway and immediately fetched a flask of coffee for their drive). There are a few young locals on the team, and it’s heart-warming to see their enthusiasm as they pluck herbs from the garden, and explain dishes with aplomb. 9/10

The rooms

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A bedroom at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

A bedroom at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

A bedroom at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

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There are only seven rooms, each decked out with plenty of stylish touches, like beautiful glass droplet chandeliers and thick wooden furniture. The beds are supremely comfortable — in fact, they’ve received so many compliments in the past that they now have an information sheet if you want to replicate the vibe at home.

There are no televisions or mini bars, but you can make a cuppa — I loved having a proper cafetière and coffee grounds, as well as Pukka teas. Both Wi-Fi and phone signal are a little patchy, but they’re there if you need it (though it’s better to switch off completely, if you can).

The only glitch? The bedroom door is the only source of light, so if you’re used to flinging a window open first thing, you’ll have to be comfortable with people walking past. It didn’t bother me, but it might if you prefer more privacy. 8/10

Food & drink

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A picnic at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

A picnic at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

A picnic at The Great Escape in County Wicklow. Photo: Liosa McNamara

As the main event, the food here needs to pack a punch. And that it most definitely does. Barry is clearly in her element here, popping out from the kitchen to pluck berries from the garden, and changing the menu on a whim based on what’s ready to eat. “It really suits my style,” she told me. “I love being able to come into the garden and lift a few pea shoots.”

All the meals (and generous wine pairings) are included. Dinner on the first night is cooked right over the fire, with buttery flatbreads and wagyu beef from a farm up the road, and guests gathered among the smoke in The Fiery. Lunch is an elaborate picnic packed for you to enjoy alone, with an exceptional sausage roll being the highlight for me, dripping with flavour and a mustardy kick.

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The outdoor oven at The Wicklow Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

The outdoor oven at The Wicklow Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

The outdoor oven at The Wicklow Escape. Photo: Liosa McNamara

On the second night, you gather on a (socially distanced) long table for an exceptional feast. Highlights for me included slippery cured scallop in an elderflower-spiked chilled tomato broth, which tasted like pure summer in a bowl. But in truth, every course left me dancing in my seat, from the garden pea soup to the juicily pink lamb with slivers of courgette. Even the sides blew me away, like the spuds dug fresh from the garden, cooked in the embers of the fire in a bath of cultured butter. Heaven. 10/10

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Fresh fish cooked al fresco at The Great Escape in County Wicklow, Photo: Liosa McNamara

Fresh fish cooked al fresco at The Great Escape in County Wicklow, Photo: Liosa McNamara

Fresh fish cooked al fresco at The Great Escape in County Wicklow, Photo: Liosa McNamara

The bottom line
It would take an incredible chef to make this a runaway hit, and in Danni Barry, that’s exactly what they’ve found. It might look a little pricey at first glance, but considering every meal is both included and exceptional (with copious amounts of wine), it’s a fair bargain. This truly is a paradise for those who love their food.

Insider tip
Book your session in the hot tub after dinner, when you’ll appreciate it the most (particularly in the summer).

Local 101
There’s a gorgeous walk that starts at the back gate, weaving through a fairy-tale forest. You can add a little loop onto the walk to head right up into the mountains.

Rates
The two-night foodie escape costs from €1,086 for two people, all-inclusive. Nicola was a guest of The Wicklow Escape. thewicklowescape.com


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